What Time Should A Toddler Eat Dinner? 4pm? 5pm? 6pm?

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 10/19/21 •  6 min read

Dinner, supper or tea time (or whatever you call it!) is the start of your toddler’s bedtime routine… 

So it is important to get the timing right!

But what time should a toddler eat dinner at?

Well, here’s all you need to know about feeding little toddlers to avoid pre-dinner hunger meltdowns and post-dinner hyper bedtime antics! (It’s a fine balance!)

How Long Before Bed Should A Toddler Eat Dinner?

Of course, we want to ensure our toddler has digested their food before they go to sleep to avoid tummy troubles or getting hyper before bed.

Dinner is going to be the trigger for your toddler that the end of the day is coming and should be served 2 hours before you say good night.

This leaves plenty of time for food to go down, energy to be worn off and a calm bedtime routine to be implemented.

What Time Should A Toddler Eat Dinner?

Well, following on from above, if your toddler’s ideal bedtime is between 6.30pm and 7.30pm… 

You should be serving their supper between 4.30pm and 5.30pm.

However, dinner times will vary from child to child depending on their age, family set up, siblings and daily activities… So keep reading to discover the ideal dinner time your toddler should eat at depending on their age!

How Long After Lunch Should A Toddler Eat Dinner?

It’s also important to know when your toddler ate lunch so you can calculate when they will need their dinner!

Well, a great rule of thumb is that toddlers should eat dinner 4 hours after lunch, with an afternoon snack midway between.

Therefore, lunch would be served around 12.30pm to 1pm.

TOP TIP: Toddlers still have little tummies and burn through their energy VERY quickly, so you’ll probably find your toddler will get hungry every 2-3 hours!

What Is My Toddler’s Ideal Dinner Time?

Your toddler’s ideal dinner time will depend on their age and meal schedule throughout the day:

Children who share family meals three or more times a week are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, develop faster and have healthier eating patterns. However, this does not have to be just dinner time…

‘3 family meals a week’ includes weekend mealtimes, breakfast time or lunching together too. 

FACT: Having dinner together will improve their language development and offer you the opportunity to model healthy eating habits and encourage them to try new foods.

Dinner Time For 1-Year-Old

Your one-year-old toddler is still very young and needs to be in bed by 6.30-7pm so their last meal of the day is still going to be earlier than the rest of the family would probably like to eat. 

Their daily meal schedule leading up to supper should look something like this:

Dinner Time For 2-Year-Old

By 2-years-old, your toddler can manage to eat a little later and is working towards eating the evening meal with the rest of the family. 

However, it is absolutely fine for them to eat before you as long as you sit with them and remain engaged.

Dinner Time For 3-Year-Old

By three years old your toddler should be having their dinner around 6pm. 

You should be having family mealtimes at the table every night (where work schedules allow) to help your little one learn how to behave at the table, socialise, develop their language and fine motor skills and spend some quality time together as a family.

Dinner Time For 4-Year-Old

By 4 years old your toddler can definitely eat as late as 6.30pm, but you should still be aiming to have your toddler in bed by 7.30-8pm at the very latest.

Finally, don’t feel guilty if your younger toddler is not eating every evening meal with you. 

Your aim is to end up with them eating with you and getting all the benefits of the family dinnertime by the time they are 5 years old.

TOP TIP: Toddlers eat less at dinner than at any other meal so don’t fret if they do not eat much! 

If you are concerned that your toddler may be hungry before bedtime, it is fine to offer them a light pre-bedtime snack like a cup of milk or a piece of fruit.

What Time Should A Toddler Eat Dinner Recap

The timing of your toddler’s dinner will depend on what time they go to bed, whether or not they go to daycare and how your family is set up.

It is important to know what time your little one finds balance with and you need to appreciate that a tired toddler will often eat less… 

So, if your toddler functions better at an earlier bedtime, then serve up dinner accordingly a couple of hours before they go to bed. 

Therefore, you can have time to go through the all-important bedtime routine in a relaxed and enjoyable fashion!

If eating meal times together isn’t always possible, reserve these special moments for weekends and compensate for not eating dinner together during the week by indulging in cosy bathtimes and reading a bedtime story with your toddler.

Here’s an in depth page about my favourite books for toddlers so feel free to take a look and add to your little one’s library!

TOP TIP: NEVER compromise on your established bedtime routine!

Making sure your toddler is in bed on time is absolutely VITAL, so do not be tempted to delay their last meal of the day to fit in with other peoples schedules. 

Reaching the point where you will all eat supper together at the end of the day is a gradual process.

But, it’s an important goal to have and you will get there when the time is right!

If you have any further questions about what time should a toddler eat dinner at, feel free to drop me an email at [email protected] and ask! I’ll be more happy to help!

As always, thank you for reading and until next time, with love and support, Happy Parenting.

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.